Masrour Barzani: "Kurdistan could promote peace and stability through promoting political dialogue and economic progress in the region."
– Exclusive WSN interview with Mr. Masrour Barzani, the General Director of the Protection and Intelligence Agency in Federal Kurdistan (Iraq) –
Mr. Masrour Barzani is the General Director of the Kurdistan Region Security Protection Agency in Federal Iraq. At the age of 16, he joined the Kurdish resistance fighters (Peshmerga) and became an active participant in the infamous Battle of Khwakurk against Saddam’s army in 1988, and in the uprising against Saddam after the first Gulf War.
He graduated in International Studies from American University in Washington, DC. In 1998, he returned to Kurdistan and was elected to the Central Committee of the Kurdistan Democratic Party. Later that same year, he became part of the Kurdistan Democratic Party Leadership before receiving his current appointment as the General Director of the Protection and Intelligence Agency.
Under Masrour Barzani’s leadership, women have been officially allowed into the Kurdish security services. Today, many of them can be seen publicly serving as guards outside government buildings. He has received praise from a Washington, D.C. non-profit organization for his advocacy of women’s rights. Mr. Masrour Barzani has also contributed to ensuring that veterans of the Kurdish struggle receive their pensions. Mr. Masrour is the son of the current Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani.
Roni Alasor took the opportunity to interview Mr. Masrour Barzani.
Roni Alasor: Mr. Masrour Barzani, maybe you have heard this question before from many in the West: Why is the Kurdistan Region considered today the safest and the most secure part of Iraq? Could you tell us the reason behind that?
Masrour Barzani : There are many reasons. The tolerant culture of our people and the rejection of extremism, the professional and the dedicated officers and individuals who work in the security and intelligence services, the tactics used to keep Kurdistan safe and secure by chasing the terrorists and keeping them away from the region, the excellent cooperation that exists among all the services in one hand, and between our services and our people on the other hand, are the most important reasons.
Roni Alasor : The last Iraqi national election in Kurdistan also went well, without any terrorist activity and with high voter turnout. Do you think that this is an indicator of the level of security and democracy in Kurdistan?
Masrour Barzani : Although there were many terrorist attacks in various parts of Iraq, the Kurdistan region was free of any terrorist activities thanks to the good work of the relevant organizations who have kept Kurdistan safe. Fortunately, none of these terrorist attempts could stop the election process. The elections in Iraq are a good indication of the practice of democracy. However, this particular election law was not fair since the seats for each province or region have been pre-decided regardless of voter turnout. While we see that the Kurdish provinces have had the highest turnout, they could not increase their seats in the next Iraqi Parliament. The winning votes in each province have therefore been different. Even in some southern or central parts of Iraq that have had much lower turnout, they could still win the pre-decided seats. This undervalues the ratio of people who vote in each region. The success of the next Iraqi government will depend on inclusive partnership with all the major Iraqi components, and on the respect of the full implementation of the Iraqi constitution.
Roni Alasor : What elements of the KRG experience on security matters can be used in Iraq and the Middle East region?
Masrour Barzani : Iraq could rely on more competent, loyal, and professional personnel to serve in the relevant services. They should find a more functional and better mechanism for all their services to coordinate their efforts and work together more closely. They should try hard to win people’s trust and convince them that the main purpose of these services is to protect and serve people.
Roni Alasor : In this regard, I would like to ask you what the cooperation between the two Kurdish security services in the KRG region is. What are the fields of cooperation between Iraqi security services, neighboring countries and Western partners?
Masrour Barzani : Here in Kurdistan we have good and close cooperation between all the services rather than competing with each other. On the other hand, we have also very good cooperation with the Iraqi services as well. Our hand of friendship, to combat terrorism, is extended to all who are willing to cooperate in this regard. Generally we have good relations with all our friends.
Roni Alasor : What role does KRG play in the regional stability of the Middle East?
Masrour Barzani : Kurdistan could promote peace and stability through promoting political dialogue and economic progress in the region.
Roni Alasor : What is the long term security strategy of KRG on a local, national and regional level?
Masrour Barzani : We hope to maintain the existing stability, enhance the security of the region, serve our people more, defeat terrorism, and provide a healthy, free and secure environment for all of our people. This will in turn serve the security of Iraq and the entire Middle East.
Roni Alasor : Many are now talking about the scheduled exit of American troops from Iraq. Do you believe that their presence is still needed for the regional security and stability?
Masrour Barzani : Sooner or later the US troops will leave Iraq. However, we believe that the presence of some U.S. troops is necessary until Iraq is strong enough to face all its internal and external challenges.
Roni Alasor : Previously, the Kurdistan Region was isolated from the world. It was almost forbidden even to visit. Many thousand of villages were bombed to ruins, and Kurds were gassed. Many tens of thousands have been killed. But today there is much interest from Western countries, including neighboring countries and Russia, who together with Turkey argued until the last minute against the fall of Saddam’s regime. There are around 20 countries that have opened official representations in Kurdistan Region; Sweden and Turkey were the most recent countries in March 2010. Many hundreds of companies, including international oil companies, are operating in Kurdistan. What are the reasons behind this huge international interest?
Masrour Barzani : Those countries will probably have a better answer, but we think that the security, political stability, practice of democracy, respect for human rights, economic prosperity, the influence of Kurdistan in the Iraqi parliament, and the participation in the Iraqi government, and the geopolitical situation of Kurdistan could be the reasons behind the attraction of many of these countries.
Roni Alasor : Do you consider the security climate in Kurdistan region favorable enough for foreign investors?
Masrour Barzani : Yes, Kurdistan could be a favorable place for foreign investors. The investment law of the Kurdistan Regional Government has attracted many foreign companies. The relative security in Kurdistan is another advantage which has urged many to look at investing in Kurdistan.
Roni Alasor : The Kirkuk question is still one of the most important in Iraq. How do you see the solution of the Kirkuk question and what will the impact be on security?
Masrour Barzani : There is an article in the Iraqi constitution called Article 140 which deals precisely with the disputed territories including Kirkuk. We believe that the full implementation of this article is the only just and democratic way to solve the outstanding issue of Kirkuk. Other alternative solutions will only make the situation more complicated. For sure, after the implementation of Article 140, the security of Kirkuk will significantly improve.
Roni Alasor : Do you think that there is tension between Arabs and Kurds as some people suggest?
Masrour Barzani : No, although throughout our recent history many people, including previous Iraqi regimes, have tried to increase tension and promote a Kurdish -Arab conflict. Our leadership since the late General Mula Mustafa Barzani, and now President Masoud Barzani, have done everything to make sure Kurdish demands for their just and rightful rights is not interpreted into a Kurdish – Arab conflict. There is much proof of this fact. The Kurds have never fought civilians even when they were bombed with chemical weapons. They have never conducted any terrorist activities, even when more than 182,000 innocent Kurds were taken and then buried in mass graves by the Ba’ath regime. On the contrary, when Arab tribes needed Kurdish grazing lands for their livestock after a severe drought and famine between 1998 and 2001, the Kurds opened their farms and land and welcomed them. During the uprising in 1991 and later after the defeat of Saddam’s regime, the Kurds did not retaliate against the Arabs and extended their hand of assistance and friendship to them. We believe in friendship and coexistence.
Roni Alasor : How do you think Iraq can reach a balance between national unity and peaceful coexistence of diverse societies?
Masrour Barzani : Recognition of the diverse societies and the respect for their differences, as well as securing their constitutional rights, is the key to keeping national unity and peaceful coexistence.
Roni Alasor : What is the relation between Kurds and the ethnic and religious minorities in Kurdistan, especially Turcoman, Assyrians, Keldani, Yezidi and Armenians?
Masrour Barzani : Kurdistan has always been a very tolerant and friendly place for all ethnicities and religions. People in Kurdistan have historically been free in practicing their religions and different ethnicities have been freely living together. More recently, Kurdistan has become a shelter and sanctuary for other religious and ethnic groups who have fled other violent parts of Iraq.
Roni Alasor : There have been many attacks by extreme Islamic groups against Christians in some disputed cities like Baghdad, Moussul and others. Many Christians are also escaping to the Kurdistan Region. What is the attitude of KRG towards these Christians? How to help them to solve this situation?
Masrour Barzani : Kurdistan has opened her arms to accommodate all those who seek protection and flee violence. The Kurdish President recently announced that the Christian students who are threatened can come to Kurdistan and continue their education. The KRG has always shown her readiness to assist Christians and has done so in practice.
Roni Alasor : What about relations between KRG and the other Kurdish communities in Turkey, Iran, and Syria?
Masrour Barzani : Our hearts are with the democratic and just rights of the Kurdish people wherever they may be. We support their peaceful and civilized struggle to achieve their goals. But we do not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries.